Wild Arms 2nd Ignition

    When the original Wild Arms was released stateside in 1997, it met both critical acclaim and disdain. Some held it close to heart because of its traditional RPG feel, while others shied away from it for the very same reason, bothered by the lack of originality. Some others saw it only as a game useful for tiding the masses until Final Fantasy VII arrived. Despite whatever problems people had with the game, Wild Arms was generally considered to be a success, and was also thought to be the first game to take RPGs to the mainstream on what was at the time a new generation of consoles. Now, three years later, Wild Arms 2 is ready to be released to a healthy American RPG market that its predecessor helped to create. Despite Wild Arms 2’s coming into a new market where ingenuity and originality are the trends, developer Contrail decided to stick to their guns and maintain traditional turn-based RPG gameplay. Luckily, for those who don’t mind getting their fix of systems elsewhere, the move seems to have paid off.

    Gamers once again find themselves in the mystical world of Filgaia, albeit in a different dimension than the first Wild Arms took place in. The new team of heroes starts out with three members who bear a strong resemblance to the first game’s cast. Although each of the three characters has a lead role, Ashley takes the title of most important character. A young soldier with a strong heart for justice, Ashley becomes the leader of a small vigilante band known as ARMS (Agile Remote Mission Squad). Although gentle at heart, Ashley must learn to battle the "demon within" after becoming subject to a vicious demon-summoning experiment. Countering the kind character of Ashley is Brad, a hero who’s also a war criminal by the same accord. Rough-cut with a tough demeanor, Brad serves as the adventurous character in the vein of Jack, although not quite as lively. Rounding out the trio is Lilka, a crest magician with a spunky attitude. Although her magic is strong, Lilka’s mentality is often her weak point, be it her often immature attitude ("V is for victory, sucka!") or her lack of self-confidence. Other characters can join your party at a later date, with a total of eight characters being playable by the end of the game. Although some characters will have important roles to play, others will act as supportive roles to the main group. As ARMS members, you’ll be put into battle against the terrorist group Odessa, who intends to purify the world by killing off the human population. Of course, it wouldn’t be a console RPG if there weren’t a greater threat looming on the horizon.

Wild Arms 2
Battle scene

   Although Wild Arms 2's plot is conceptually sound, and the characters enjoyable, the drawback comes in the presentation with which the story unfolds. Although many parts of the game are very enjoyable, others are repetitive and trite. Throughout the game the player becomes subject to cliché scenarios which abrupt the flow of the overall story. Constant intervenes by "Cocytus", a group of Odessa soldiers which serve as the "Quarter Knights" of Wild Arms 2, serve no purpose but to make the heroes fight them off on the home turf, then chase them to a dungeon just to return home and pick up where the story left off.

   The gameplay in Wild Arms 2 remains very true to the original - turn-based battles and overhead exploration are nearly identical to Wild Arms. Battles feature the same cross menu found in Wild Arms and the Lufia series, with your party deciding all their moves before the round of fighting begins. As before, your FP determines what special moves you can use, and is built both by being attacked and attacking. Special moves consist of the return of ARMs for both Ashley and Brad, while Lilka uses magic. Ashley wields a large rifle with an equally large bayonet on the end, while Brad relies on mechanical fighting gloves to dish out the damage. Once again, ARMs are upgradable and have limited ammo, so be prepared to spend some serious money at ARMs repair / upgrade shops throughout Filgaia. Magic also follows the same basic style from the first Wild Arms: collect graphs and take them to magic shops to have spells permanently bound to them for Lilka’s use. For the non crest magician, you can also bind spells to crest caps, which allow the graph to be used as an item one time only by non magic users. Exploration in Wild Arms 2 is once again similar to the original, with puzzle-loaded dungeons. You’ll have to learn to make efficient use of your tools if you want to make it through dungeons without consulting a walkthrough every few minutes.

   Although there aren’t any real systems to be found in Wild Arms 2, there are little gameplay additions to make the overall mechanics more enjoyable. First off, there’s a continue mode which can be used if you have a spare Gimel coin. If you have a spare Gimel coin and would happen to be defeated by a boss, just select continue to restart the battle with the stats you originally went into it with. Luckily, Contrail didn’t use this as an excuse to make bosses overly difficult, and it just serves as a means to avoid replaying entire areas. An option called the "Personal Skills System" also appears in Wild Arms 2, which allows you to distribute skill points to raise statistics, increase your odds of immunity to spell effects, or raise the chance of having something like a critical hit occur. Characters gain one skill point per level up, giving the personal skills a "bonus points" feel. For those who want as accurate a game time as possible despite their on-the-go lifestyle, just turn on the screensaver option and set it as low as one minute. If the game doesn’t detect any input for the timeframe you select, it goes to a screensaver consisting of randomly generated 3D domino effects, backed by the anime intro music to the first Wild Arms. World map exploration also receives a new, realistic twist - when exploring the overworld, you can’t see new destinations the first time you head for them. Instead, you have to use the map-find ability. With the map-find ability, a green light emits from Ashley, showing that he’s searching the area around him. Any new locations found by scanning the map will appear for you to enter, and you can even find items (some generic, some rare) by scanning in the right spot. Finally, for those who don’t feel like fighting needless battles, Contrail has made it simple to avoid weak enemies without having to go into battle just to run away. When you’re exploring dungeons, an exclamation point appears above your head right before a battle. If the exclamation has a red background and is white itself, the battle is unavoidable due to the enemy being on a high level. However, once you’re on a high enough level, the exclamation points may appear black with a white background. If this happens, just tap the circle button and the battle will never even take place.

Rudy Vahn Ashley

   Unfortunately, where Contrail improved the mechanics of the battle side of gameplay, the dungeon design is far from the level of the first Wild Arms. To be blunt, the dungeons in Wild Arms 2 have the potential to turn the game's CDs into coasters all on their own. Where Wild Arms made use of puzzles randomly placed in dungeons which required thinking to solze, Wild Arms 2 offers little more than obstacles. In almost every dungeon in the game, you'll be confronted by a "puzzle" in nearly every single room. Unfortunately, these puzzles, as previously stated, typically require no thinking. Most of these puzzles are things as simple as hitting a switch to open a door. The variation comes in having to switch characters to use a different tool to be able to reach the switch. Hardly worthy of the name puzzle, these obstacles begin to come off as trite hindrances to progressing through dungeons, and may be enough to make less patient players give up.

   Graphically, Wild Arms 2 caters to the philosophy that a game doesn’t need industry-leading graphics. Wild Arms 2 makes use of 3D polygonal backgrounds topped by sprite characters when on the maps, and full 3D backgrounds and characters when in battle. The locations are drawn very well, and in truth you’ll often forget they’re 3D. With highly detailed textures in most areas and a lack of need to rotate the camera, Wild Arms 2 plays very 2D. In battles, the graphics are nearly identical to the first Wild Arms, although the characters are a bit more realistically proportioned and have slightly better textures. Although nothing in Wild Arms 2 will blow you away in terms of graphical prowess, the graphics serve the game’s style and genre very well.

   Making a return from the first Wild Arms, music composer Michiko Naruke once again delivers an amazing set of audio tracks. Although the anime intro’s music was edited (the Japanese vocals were replaced with an acoustic guitar solo), the rest of the game’s music easily lives up to the reputation that Michiko Naruke has earned. Some of the music is very atmospheric and soothing, while other songs have the face paced, Western / fantasy blend frequently associated with the Wild Arms series. Fans of gaming music should definitely consider importing this OST.

   In the end, Wild Arms 2 delivers a solid package. It's far from a perfect title, but it's not a bad game by any means either. Gamers looking for a traditional, turn-based RPG should definitely consider purchasing Wild Arms 2. However, if you're leery of extensive dungeons or not a fan of the first game, a rental is in order before putting in the investment.

Review by Jeremy Steimel, GIA.
Wild Arms 2
Developer Contrail
Publisher Sony
Genre Traditional RPG
Medium CD (2)
Platform PlayStation
Release Date  09.09.99
Wild Arms 2 announced
Anime intro movie / 15 anime intro screenshots
5 wallpaper images
North American box art